Taking a fall is one of the most frightening things to a senior citizen.
According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in Americans, with one in four Americans aged 65 years or older suffering a fall each year. Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
Avoiding such episodes has to do with diminished physical strength, but also mental strength plays a role. And in the Pueblo West community, “Chair Yoga,” a free class offered by Pueblo yoga instructor Christina McCann, helps build that confidence.
Chair Yoga, which takes place three times per week at the Pueblo West Library, caters to seniors that either have no experience with yoga or are simply uncomfortable with the intensity of traditional yoga.
The poses McCann incorporates into each 30-minute class range from seated exercises to those that incorporate the stabilization of a chair into the routine. It’s designed especially for seniors that are looking to rebuild strength that may have diminished with aging.
So much of it, she said, is about building mental strength far more than physical.
“Some of them don’t have great knees or the ability to stand up the whole time,” said McCann, an instructor at donation-based Studio Share in Pueblo. “They can take breaks and we just do it in a way that is good for them to find that mental strength.”
It’s a positive, inclusive environment, regular student Paula Russano said. Students have the ability to adapt the lesson to their own limitations with no shame, and many do so.
“Christina always tells you that if it hurts, don’t do it,” Russano said. “You’ll see people struggle and you don’t have to do everything. But I love it. You get used to it and Christina is a riot and makes us laugh.”
One of the main focuses of building that confidence is to eliminate the fear that comes from taking a fall.
At Wednesday classes, the 25 or so students that typically attend end the class with “keep-ups,” five minutes of bent shoulder touches with no breaks.
McCann joked that the routine is more well-known among the ladies by the name of “torture.” But, they fight through.
“I try to make the adaptation to the mind before I make it to the body,” McCann said. “They are actually stronger than they give themselves credit for, and tell them ‘you can do this.’ They know they can.”
It all results in confidence, especially important when falls happen.
After the Wednesday keep-ups, Friday is a more advanced class that gets students on the floor next to their chairs, their feet on the wall for stabilization.
The combination of Wednesday and Friday’s exercises create that confidence, student Bev Bailey said.
“If you fall, you’ve got to be able to get back up,” Bailey said. “I feel like I can do that. I’ve found muscles and things I didn’t know I had, like my toes.”
The exercises are easy enough, as well, that they can be done at home, Russano said.
“I can do it at home because my dining room chairs are the same, so I do it as much as I can and do it every day instead of just Wednesdays.”
More than the mental and physical strength, McCann said, the students earn community and friendship.
“This is not all about just yoga,” McCann said. “It’s about a community, too. We’ve a created a community to where a lot of ladies go to breakfast or coffee afterward. They’re friends and they wouldn’t have met these people if it weren’t for Chair Yoga.”
Chair Yoga is held every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:10 to 10:15 a.m. Chair Yoga is recommended for those with arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer recovery, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, post-op rehabilitation, and others with limited mobility. Fridays, students should bring a mat to do floor exercises and chair modifications are available. McCann teaches the Wednesday and Friday classes while Tammy Graham teaches the Thursday class.